In our occasional feature we invite guests to select the six cultural links that might sustain them if, by some mischance, they were forced to spend eternity in a succession of airport departure lounges with only an iPad or similar device for company.
Today’s voyager is James Hamilton, a freelance writer and former sport psychotherapist based in Edinburgh. James’ work has appeared in the The Times and BBC Online and he has contributed to programmes on sports psychology themes for Channel Four and Sky One. He blogs at More Than Mind Games and of course has contributed brilliant articles about forgotten elements of sports history to the Dabbler’s Row Z feature.
When it comes down to it, I’m a terrible at the passive consumption of culture: trapped for eternity in the arrivals lounge, I’d fret if all I could do was read or look at something. I’m going to need prompts and jump-off points; triggered memories and trains of thought to keep me typing – I can type on the Ipad, can’t I? while I wait for Captain Flashheart to botch his rescue attempt. There’s a lot to cover, but I’m only allowed six choices. They’ll have to double up..
I’m beginning with a sports film from pre-War India. The beauty of sports history for me is encapsulated in what George Szirtes said a few weeks back: I chose football not only because I like it, but because it seems unpromising to those who look down on sports … and although this is hockey, not football, the film is packed with the potential of all that that sentence means for a sports historian. Furthermore, the Indians beautifully, elegantly thrash the Nazis in Berlin at the ’36 Olympics, looking, as they do it, like men from the future. The music is Eric Satie’s Gymnopedies no.1; at the airport, it stands in for Montmartre, and Modigliani, Kiki’s city and that whole Parisian ’10s and ’20s where just about everything got underway.
My next choice involves the fight against totalitarianism too but is as much or more about the sense of being alive. Gerda Taro was a young photographer, crushed by one of Franco’s tanks in the Spanish Civil War. I watch this, with its Piaf-lite soundtrack, and think of Sam Tyler digging the paper knife deep into his hand. The faces of the friends you were meant to have but were born too late to meet gaze warmly at you from old photographs and outside there’s nothing but grey skies and traffic.
My next click takes us into the War itself. It’s Powell and Pressburger’s 49th Parallel, and a small team of Nazis are stranded on the Newfoundland coast. As they travel west in search of escape and glory, Canadian decency and courage picks them off one by one. In this scene, Peter, the leader of a Hutterite settlement, offers asylum – this is your home – to Vogel, a reluctant Nazi who, through honest labour in their kitchens, has won back his soul and trade and manhood. This just about puts it all into focus, as Joe Cocker would say – and that’s right: that’s all of politics, for me, right there.
My next choice is more recent and closer to home. Oliver Bulleid had spent the late ’30s undercover for Nigel Gresley on the continent, keeping lines open to German engineers and dodging the Gestapo. 30 years on, here are Bulleid’s own creations, suddenly shockingly lost and antique in that startling 60s sunshine that corroded everything old, trapped among high-rise offices at Waterloo to the sound of – what else? Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks. Ray Davies is what Philip Larkin would have become in happier times, and between the Chatterly Ban and the Beatles last LP the Kinks, Beatles, Who, Hollies and Stones wrote all of urban England’s folksong. It would be music from the English after that, not engineering, and I need both on the Ipad.
An American woman at university told me that my English voice was my fortune: go to New York and talk, she said: marry yourself a rich American divorcee. I did marry one, in the end, although for love, and not rich, and in quite different circumstances, and anyway, over here. But what if I had gone – as Andrew Sullivan of my generation did, and Christopher Hitchens before him? The East Coast of America is where many of us store the lives we never lived. So here’s a dream New York, in the opening of Woody Allen’s Manhattan with its glorious Gershwin soundtrack. Implicit in Gershwin, you can hear all of that glorious pre-Miles jazz from New Orleans and Chicago that came and went in the space of his brief, curtailed adulthood.
My last pick takes us back to the 1930s once again, and although Charles Trenet fought the Nazis bravely, this isn’t about that. Windex, women and song, and it was never like this for James Lees-Milne, was it? Not a patch on Boum or La Mer, but gloriously absurd and silly and good-humoured. In a sane world, this would be the title music for Newsnight but this isn’t a sane world. It’s Heathrow, so I need something silly and absurd, and what the heck’s kept Captain Flashheart?